Not many mother-daughter duos can say they’ve both launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. In fact, Linda and Taylor Tonnies may be the only pair able to make such a claim.
Then-1st Lt. Linda Tonnies turned the launch key on a Minuteman III ICBM at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on June 8, 1994, as part of Glory Trip 155. Operational test launches, referred to as Glory Trips, are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many missileers, which is why it’s so surprising that now, more than 26 years later, Linda’s daughter has done the same.
1st Lt. Taylor Tonnies, a missile operator with the 742nd Missile Squadron, was one of two operators at Vandenberg to turn the key for Glory Trip 236 on Oct. 29.
“It’s a huge honor for anyone to get chosen for Glory Trip, and I’m very glad to be here,” Taylor said in an Air Force news release. “Having the opportunity to launch a missile is rare, and I couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity. I got even more excited to find out that the missile came from Minot and I actually watched it while I was on alert!”
Both women served in the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, ready to provide nuclear capabilities around the world at a moment’s notice.
“It was an incredible experience,” Linda said of Glory Trip 155. “The 91st Missile Wing did, and still does, an excellent job of educating the operators about maintenance and security operations, but a Glory Trip is at a different level. Touring the launch facility, meeting and talking with the maintainers adds perspective. Learning about the command center, where the tracking takes place and the decisions that were made, added a layer of complexity that I had yet to experience as a lieutenant with no prior Air Force experience.”
Becoming a missileer was Linda’s dream when she graduated from Officer Training School in 1991. Her daughter, however, was less sure of her career path.
“My mom definitely inspired me to be in the Air Force and always told me how great being a missileer was. I think seeing it from her perspective helped me see the career field for what it is,” said Taylor, who commissioned through the Air Force Academy in 2018.
“I encouraged her to pick missiles from the first day she started at the Air Force Academy,” Linda said. “As an operator, it’s a tough field, but very rewarding. I’ve always considered missile duty to be the Air Force’s best-kept secret. Now, I’m happy to pass the responsibility on to my daughter.”
The unarmed Minuteman III ICBM launched during Glory Flight 236 impacted a predetermined target near Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Test Defense Site in the Marshall Islands, approximately 4,200 miles from Vandenberg.
According to an Army press release, the Reagan Test Site’s radars, optical sensors, and telemetry have helped to test the accuracy and reliability of weapons like GT 236′s ICBM for more than 50 years.
“The Reagan Test Site mission (in this test) is to provide Air Force Global Strike Command with the necessary data for them to perform Minuteman III system performance assessment,” said Army Col. Eugene M. Poindexter, director of the RTS. “The RTS team is dedicated to the GT-236 mission, doing everything in their power to ensure that RTS provides exceptional support.”
In addition to recording data from impact, RTS personnel assisted in performing environmental impact assessment, range scheduling, and logistical support to ensure a safe test launch.
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.